The Chicago Bulls are creeping closer to shutting down point guard Lonzo Ball for a second straight season.
Ball hasn’t played for the Bulls since Jan. 14, 2022, when a small tear in the MCL in his right knee spiraled into an increasingly confounding injury requiring two surgical procedures and continuing to cause him pain.
Although the Bulls haven’t set a firm cutoff date for Ball to return this season, they are facing a rapidly shortening runway. If Ball can’t make a drastic improvement in the next three weeks ahead of the All-Star break, coach Billy Donovan said the Bulls likely will sit down for a formal discussion on Ball’s season — and his future.
“If you start to get to that point, I think there will probably end up being some conversations: ‘OK, what if he’s still not close to playing? What’s the plan going forward?’ ” Donovan said Saturday before the finale of a three-game trip against the Orlando Magic.
If updates on Ball’s recovery feel like recycled news, it’s not your imagination. The season is progressing while Ball is not, and Donovan’s updates on Ball are a repetition of the same facts he’s provided for months.
Ball still isn’t running at full speed. He can’t scrimmage or play basketball. Although he has made marginal improvements — lightly jumping to shoot and dunk the ball, jogging on a treadmill — none is enough to signal that Ball will be cleared in the coming weeks for sprinting or other high-intensity drills. And until he can sprint at full speed for multiple days in a row without a setback, Ball can’t be cleared for contact drills, scrimmaging or getting back onto an NBA court.
There are only seven weeks between the All-Star break and the end of the regular season. Even if Ball is cleared to begin running in February, it’s uncertain how he could be ramped up in time to play meaningful minutes by the end of the season.
“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”
Until then, Ball has no clear timeline for when — or if — he’ll put on a Bulls jersey in 2023.